Sunday, 10 August 2014

The Guild of Assassins by Anna Kashina

The Guild of Assassins by Anna Kashina is the second book in The Majat Code series. I read and reviewed the first book, Blades of the Old Empire, earlier this year. Unfortunately, while I enjoyed book one, book two didn't really do it for me. Note that this review contains spoilers for the ending of book one.
Kara has achieved something that no Majat has ever managed – freedom from the Guild!

But the Black Diamond assassin Mai has been called back to face his punishment for sparing her life. Determined to join his fight or share his punishment, Kara finds herself falling for Mai.

But is their relationship – and the force that makes their union all-powerful – a tool to defeat the overpowering forces of the Kaddim armies, or a distraction sure to cause the downfall of the Majat?
The story follows the same group of characters from book one, although with some emphases shifted. Ellah and Alder were point of view characters in the first book but in The Guild of Assassins they are merely background characters. The point of view focuses strongly on Prince Kyth, Kara the highly trained assassin and, somewhat unexpectedly, Magister Egey Bashi. Lady Celana, who was a minor character in book one, plays a more visible role in book two.

Egey Bashi gets a surprising amount of point of view time for someone who's less directly involved in the action than some of the other characters. I suspect that might be because he's the only sensible adult around (well, Mai, a central character who doesn't really get point of view sections, is in his early twenties, but...) and is a useful tool to explain why other characters are doing silly things, or why those things are silly, and to fix some of the problems they cause. Unfortunately, that didn't make him a terribly exciting character. I didn't have strong feelings about him in book one and I still don't. Unfortunately, he plays such a large role in book two that I probably should have had a stronger reaction to him.

The first thing that bothered me was actually a holdover from Blades of the Old Empire. Towards the end of that one it's revealed that Mai is in love with Kara and that storyline is explored extensively in The Guild of Assassins. It wasn't a storyline that I found worked for me very well and I didn't find it very interesting. It also meant that the relationship aspect of the story turned into a love triangle which I felt, again, pretty ambivalent about. But at least it wasn't like a cliched YA love triangle.

What really bogged down the story for me was the copious introspection of all the characters. I think this existed in the first book but, for whatever reason — more interesting personal problems? A broader range of characters? — didn't bother me then. Here it often felt repetitive and I found myself skimming over a lot of inner monologue. Most of it was either about the love triangle from Kyth and Kara or about other characters' actions/motivations/mistakes from Egey Bashi.

On the bright side, that made it feel like a quicker read than it otherwise might have. And I should add I wasn't bored or annoyed enough to stop reading the book (I considered it, but ultimately decided it wasn't that bad). I am not sure if there is a sequel (my guess would be yes) and, if there is, I don't know that I'll be reading it. The plot of The Guild of Assassins very much centred around defeating the evil brotherhood that had taken over a monastery (and was trying to take over the world) without very many side plots (other than the relationship one). By contrast, there was more mystery in Blades of the Old Empire, since we didn't know anything about the evil brotherhood, which kept things interesting. Given a sufficiently interesting plot, I might be tempted to have a go at a book three.

If you enjoyed Blades of the Old Empire, then give The Guild of Assassins a go, particularly if you thought Mai and Kara together would be an interesting story. If you felt more meh about the first book, probably give this one a miss.

3 / 5 stars

First published: August 2014, Angry Robot
Series: Book two of the Majat Code
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

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